"The Burglar's Gift" Mr Martinez Four
The town hall stood on a street called ‘Avenida de Derechos Humanos’. Martinez had long stopped finding it amusing that he lived on Human Rights Avenue. Besides the Ayuntamiento, there was little else on the street. One of the few in the town without a bar, restaurant or café, somewhere along its length. A quarter-mile up the road was the Policial Local office with the lock-up he’d spent four hours in yesterday. There was no-one around anywhere; the late night bars and restaurants would already have closed, saving their all-nighters for the finde – fin de semana. At weekends, middle class families would go out to eat at ten thirty and the sobremesa would go on sometimes until three or four a.m. For most the talking after the plates were cleared and before the penultimo drink was the best part of eating out. But it was Martes, Tuesday. Martínez thought of most words in Spanish first now. Had done for a long time. Distances were the problem. Miles, yards, feet, inches. Anyone reasonably cosmopolitan would assume he was from Mexico, Puerto Rico or even Argentina, when he occasionally slipped up. In thirty years Rueda was the only person who was sure he was a gringo. Alive, that was. As long as he was alive. Martínez was pretty sure he would be. He hadn’t hit him that hard.
Martínez let himself into the building, a low-rise with six apartments, two to a floor and a penthouse or atico on top. His apartment was on the second floor. The door was open, the frame splintered, as was the door around the lock. He palmed the Zippo and made a fist, just in case. A tornado had blown through the apartment . Martínez had favoured the minimalist look, but you wouldn’t know it from the state of the place. The bookshelf and TV unit had been reduced to splinters. The sofa looked like the ones fly-tipped in the campo, so much stuffing and so many springs on the outside they looked like art installations. Many of the floor tiles were smashed and the concrete beneath exposed. The contents of his go-bag that he kept by the door were scattered all over the room. All except the burner ‘phone. And the money. They'd gone, naturally. There was a square of space amid all the mayhem. The burglar’s gift had been left on the floor. The reek was foul, but probably not recent. Standing next to it was the penthouse resident. Braddock. He’d been the cartoonist for some tabloid in London for thirty years and had been in the area for thirty more. Martínez and Braddock were the only residents who didn’t use the elevator, although he always referred to it as ‘the lift’. The old guy was looking a little flaky.
‘B-b-burglars.’ He pointed a shaking finger at the excrement, ‘N-n-not me.’
‘You see anything?’
‘No. I heard them, though. I waited an hour before coming down.’ Braddock sounded relieved, probably because they were speaking English. He liked to practise his ‘Ess-Pan-Yol’ on the stairs, Martínez doubted whether Braddock knew the word for ‘burglars’ any more than he could pronounce ‘ascensor’.
‘Hear anything useful?’
The old man smiled, showing gappy teeth that were still his own, but maybe not for much longer. ‘They shouted “Policia Nacional”, before they broke the door down.’
He stepped around the shit-pile on the floor, ‘I think I left the water running. I’ll miss our conversations on the stairs.’ He held out a hand, and Martínez shook it, even though he wasn’t really sure why.
Martínez re-packed his go-bag with the spare shirt, underwear, and boots. He’d buried some cash on a deserted finca out by the olive press on the periférico. He’d often wondered who’d been bribed to commission the building of a beltway for such a tiny burg. He took the stairs down for the last time. It was a long walk out to his secret cache, whether you counted it in miles or kilómetros.